Sunday, June 30, 2013

Old TV documentary: "To Keep and Bear Arms"

Here we have "To Keep and Bear Arms," an episode of "The Big Picture," a TV documentary series that ran on ABC in the fifties and sixties. It is inconceivable that ABC would run an episode like this today. But thanks to Youtube user nuclearvault, we can watch it still. It's a pretty good basic rundown on the history and significance of the right to arms and the role of the NRA. Show it to kids if you get the chance, for they certainly do not get any such information in school these days, and see nothing of the sort on TV. It is as if one particular civil right has disappeared from the liberal lexicon, and if the NRA is portrayed on television, it is now in a bad light not a good one.

Video: Reassembling Ruger's .22 automatic pistol

Here is a well done Youtube video by one danielp59. Ruger's otherwise excellent .22 pistol has one annoying characteristic. It can be difficult to reassemble once you have taken it apart. I found this video helpful and so I am passing it along.

The .22 pistol was the first product Ruger offered and its success put the company on the map. It is an accurate gun and dependability problems almost always owe to poor quality ammunition or a dirty mechanism, rather than to any fault in the gun itself. The fiddly nature of the task of putting it back together is the only real fault it has. For about sixty years, people have been having trouble getting the hammer in the right position during reassembly. Watch this video to learn the right flick of the wrist to get things back together properly.

Penumbra? We don't need no steenking penumbras!

I got retwittered for saying

Fear the man who says, "If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear."

This saying struck a chord with some people. Let me strum that chord for a minute. Let me parse the reasoning.

The speaker is key here: Focus upon the one who says, "If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear."  He decides. He decides! He thinks he has a right to know your business and then to judge, after the fact, whether you had anything to hide. But what gives him any such right?

The thing spoken implies a forceful person speaking, who will take anything he is denied. That is not America. That is, indeed, what each and every word in the Bill of Rights seeks to avoid.

Legal questions of the right to privacy are somewhat complicated by prior rulings, which sometimes make things more complicated than they need to be. "Hard cases make bad law." But in principle you have, supposedly at least, the right to be left alone, absent some probable cause to bother you. It is easy to discern, today, a penumbra of privacy where it is politically convenient, but impossible otherwise.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The saber: Corbesier's manual

Thanks to the Internet Archive, this excellent little book is available for free in many digital formats at this link. It will prove of interest to hobbyist fencers and those interested in historical weapons. If you prefer a real book you can get one from Amazon.

The saber became the most common type of sword in Western military use and retained that position up until the time when swords were no longer useful in war. Its universal popularity owed to the manner of its use. A straightforward and highly logical method for saber fencing arose; no one is sure exactly where it originated. Somewhere in Eastern Europe is a good bet. With only minor regional differences, the saber fencing method became established everywhere in the Western world as the right way to do it. Military manuals show this when looked at side by side; the methods are substantially similar from one country to another, the convergence increasing over time.

A plate from Corbesier's manual

By the nineteenth century there is a thoroughly homogenized, pan-European and American understanding of how the weapon works. The saber is used in dual tempo, parry followed by riposte. Parries are made with your blade in steep inclination with respect to the opposing blade, at or near right angles, reducing the chance of malparrying.  Five characteristic parries emerge; some systems add a couple extras. The five are hanging guards (point down) to the left and right, upright guards (point up) to the right and left, and an overhead guard, the good old St. George. These are the same parries taught for sport fencing in our times.

There are many training manuals surviving from the long era in which the saber was the preferred sidearm. My favorite came along rather late, in 1872, but in its clarity and its elimination of extraneous material it is to my eye the best of the bunch. I refer to the manual prepared by Antoine Corbesier for the U.S. Navy. Corbesier was the Naval Academy's fencing master. His manual embodies excellent insights about the weapon and a clear idea of the best methods to use for teaching people what to do with it. The manual is set up around the idea of squad instruction via drills done on called out commands. Thanks to the Internet Archive, this excellent little book is available for free in many digital formats at this link. It will prove of interest to hobbyist fencers and those interested in historical weapons. If you prefer a real book you can get one from Amazon.

In theory, a straight thrusting sword is a deadlier and more efficient weapon than a saber. In practice, there is a problem with that. It is rather difficult to learn to use a thrusting sword well and it ordinarily requires long practice aided by a fencing master. Saber fencing, though, is simple enough that good results were obtained by recruits instructed out of a book, in group exercises led by sergeants. Sergeants are always plentiful, while bona fide fencing masters are few in any era and military forces do not have unlimited time to train the troops. Hence the saber's ascendency as the military weapon of choice.

There is an interesting principle here. The military is not always interested in the best weapon, but in the best attainable combination of weapon and trooper skill with his weapon. With the time and training resources that were available, soldiers could be made dangerous with the saber; the thrusting sword, though, would have taken vastly more time and higher quality instruction. A modern example that is somewhat similar: The US Army has stayed with the M16 for so long because it is matchlessly easy to shoot. Its excellent control ergonomics, straight line buttstock and trifling recoil, together with very good inherent accuracy for a military rifle, make a semi-skilled rifleman a dangerous customer. No one says it is the best fighting rifle ever, but it is something really outstanding in being easy to learn, easy to teach and easy to use.

Corbesier's little book sums up everything that is most useful to know about using a saber, cutlass or hanger. While there are many other historical manuals on the same subject, American and foreign, I can't think of any that are actually better suited to the task of taking a squad of recruits and making them passable swordsmen.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

NRA Spotlights Safe Gun Use and Storage

The NRA endorses a slightly different list of safety rules than the Cooper-inspired Four Rules I usually promote. Actually, though, I'm easy. I promote the NRA rule list in settings where that is what is familiar and what people have heard before and will hear again. There is no sense in confusing the issue. The different rule sets are consistent with one another in identifying the problems and warning against them. We know what the problems are because people who disregard the warnings have the same problems in incident after avoidable incident.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

9mm versus .38 Special, women and guns, plus a little bit of history

The Daily Caller has an interesting story about what happened when a woman, one of their reporters, went shopping for a personal defense handgun. The story shows that several of the gun shops she visited did a good job, paid attention to what she wanted and what she would use it for, and talked with her about getting a gun that fits her hands and fits her needs. The recommendation from multiple sources: She should buy this or that high quality 9mm pistol.

The Caller editor remarked, and I agree, that it was surprising that not one shop mentioned the .38 Special as an alternative. I have seen an article somewhere or other, written by some woman or other, to the effect  that recommending revolvers to women is somehow condescending, as if women cannot learn to handle automatics properly. Maybe the salesmen in the shops read the same article. I think it more likely, though, that suggesting a revolver never entered their minds, because auto pistols are so much more popular these days. The gun stores keep some revolvers around in case an old timer like me comes in and asks for one.

The revolver is simpler to use, to clean and to inspect for correct operation. Some women struggle a bit to work the slide on an automatic, but most can manage to get the right judo on it and shuck in a round. My feeling, though, is that the revolver is a friendlier, more convenient piece of machinery, whether you are a man or a woman, and a good revolver is adequate to most self defense situations. I would have at least put the .38 forward as an option, if presented with the reporter's particular requirements.

My thinking on the matter goes back to the "wonder nine" craze of the nineteen seventies and eighties, in which many new pistols were introduced that held what then seemed like a whole lot of 9mm ammunition. My thinking has evolved only a little bit since. I now acknowledge that there are some situations in which you are actually safer for having thirteen or fifteen or seventeen shots in the gun as opposed to five or six. Such situations are, fortunately, infrequent. Do you plan around the worst case scenario or average requirements?  That is the key question. How you answer it will tell you whether you will feel comfortable carrying a revolver. Me, I'm comfortable.

Back in that long ago era, it was accepted wisdom that the best thing you can do to up your survival chances, whether you are packing a .38 or a wonder nine, is to make sure that your first shot is a hit. If you can do that, each remaining round is of diminishing importance.

Back then, the "New York reload" was a commonplace response to worries about having too little firepower. That consisted of a full sized .38 on the belt and a little snubnose .38 carried somewhere out of sight.

The .38 Special +P cartridge is an enduring favorite of mine. It has about as much power as I want to deal with in a small lightweight gun. In a full sized revolver it is easily controllable and quite accurate. It is not a bowl-em-over powerhouse but it is respectable.

One of the better loadings is a lead semi-wadcutter hollowpoint 158-grain bullet over a +P powder charge, the old FBI load, which was used also by a number of police departments. It is still quite a good defensive round, with a long record of effectiveness. With a plentiful supply of these cartridges and a good revolver or two, I feel that my armament is most likely sufficient. This setup is not the latest thing but I see no reason why it wouldn't work as well now as it ever did.

The Caller article concludes without the reporter having made up her mind about which gun to buy, so I hope there will be a sequel. The gun stores that knew their business and listened to their customer gave her a lot of good and useful information. She did a good job of sorting out the wheat from the chaff. The story demystifies the key aspects of how to choose a gun. Pass the story on to those who are contemplating a first-time purchase.

Friday, June 14, 2013

We always lie to pollsters

Rasmussen has a poll result out today,

I am pretty sure that  the true number is underreported in this poll. There are some poll questions that have built in tendencies to underreporting. If you think the NSA is busily prying into all the data they can find on private citizens, you might think twice about saying so over the phone.

The Feds assure us that they are not listening to actual conversations (except when they do), but even if you grant that, your answers still go into the pollster's database. Where do they go from there? Does anyone know? Some people may understandably want to keep their thoughts to themselves, and say "Oh, it's likely no problem" or "I'm not sure."

Another example of a self-sinking poll number is the question of how many households in America have guns. That poll number has been dropping, causing the anti-gun contingent to crow that the number of people owning guns is declining. Instead I see a decline in the number of people telling the truth about it. That decline follows upon long attempts to demonize gun ownership and to attach penalties to minor infractions. It may also reflect increased awareness on the part of gun owners that gun theft is a widespread problem and we need to do what we can to stop it. Some people have concluded that you don't talk much about your guns, especially to strangers on the phone.  How do you know it's really Rasmussen or Gallup? It could be the Feds. It could be thieves. It could be Sarah Brady. Better if you just don't go there. At the same time that gun ownership is supposedly shrinking, gun sales and training are booming, leading to the preposterous idea that a shrinking number of gun owners have a house full of guns apiece, if you believe the results of telephone polling about gun ownership. 

About today's result from Rasmussen: I am an American. I find it difficult to square the American people I know with only 57% seeing the risk to civil liberties the NSA has created. The poll number could well be depressed if people are feeling a bit shy about discussing the problem. A part of the 14% "don't know" response could be simple evasion. "I dunno" or "I'll have to think about it" are classic American ways of not sharing your opinion. You may have an opinion, even a good hot one, but you don't want to tell it to the person you are talking to. The 30% who think there is likely no problem may be mostly sincere, but I find it hard to think that percentage is composed entirely of sincere answers. 

There is a portion of our society who feel that big government can do no wrong, always knows best and will look out for them. They have nothing to hide, thus nothing to fear, yada yada and etcetera. There is a polling block that always goes for more and bigger laws and taxes and intrusions. I have seen that block show up in polls before, and estimated its size as between 18 and 22% . That is, even the most preposterous proposals for more and bigger government and against personal liberty will draw that many approving responses. That's not a scientific result, just an off the cuff observation. 18-22% isn't 30%. If my guess about the number of Big Brother's hard core adherents is even in the right ballpark, then the 30% "no problem" response quite possibly incorporates some people who are saying the convenient thing instead of the truth. And it could be they are being smart to do so. I can at least see how they could think that they are doing the smart thing. 

Thursday, June 13, 2013

In a PRISM, darkly

The NSA scandal did not take me entirely by surprise. You could infer that something big was going on by reading the techie help wanted ads. Very large databases, metadata, interoperability, cross-database searches, security clearance required.

The surprising part is just how big and intrusive the thing is, sweeping in information about, potentially at least, any and every American. The line from Washington is not to worry. They're only looking for terrorists. If you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear.

The trouble, though, is in the blanket warrants and the blithe assumption that everyone's data is fair game. Why is that a problem? If you're not plotting to blow things up, why would you worry?

Jim Yardley, blogging over at the American Thinker website, has a germane observation about that. The system is only looking for enemies, looking for terrorists? We are investing a whole lot of trust in the people who are defining who is an enemy and who is a terrorist. Indeed we are investing too much trust. The reason our laws require warrants to be narrow and specific is that broad fishing expeditions are inherently dangerous to liberty. Yardley:

Only terrorists need be concerned.  Otherwise, there's nothing to see here, so move along.
I seem to recall, however, that Janet Napolitano, our peerless Secretary of Homeland Security disseminated a white paper in 2009 that indicated that veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, Tea Partiers and other "right wing extremists," those who mistrust the government and others of like mind are potential threats and potential terrorists. 

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We have given the government enormous powers to snoop and pry. What safeguards are there against abuse of these powers? In another scandal, running simultaneously with this one, we see that the IRS was used as a weapon targeting Obama's enemies: tea partiers, religious conservatives, etcetera. Is the NSA immune to the corruption to which the IRS succumbed?

In a followup article, Yardley revisits the nub of the problem:

Given the current ability of the NSA to collect unimaginable masses of date, and then given specifics regarding what phone numbers/names/addresses and other variables to concentrate their efforts on, is there any doubt, in anyone's mind that the damage that is potentially destructive to Obama's political enemies would be of the same magnitude as the Hiroshima or Nagasaki bombs?
Any military man, no matter which nation they defend, will all say the same thing.  Never plan on what you expect your enemy to do, but rather plan based on what they are capable of doing. 

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My reading of history suggests that when the old line gets trotted out, "if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear," then you actually do have something to fear, whether you have anything to hide or not. For instance, there is nothing illegal about being a tea partier, a Christian, or a conservative. However, it is inconvenient to the regime. See what I'm driving at?

The problem is not that the government has abused its power in that way. I see no proof that it has done so, at least at the NSA. The problem is that it can. Absent the safeguards, checks and balances of narrowly specific warrants, anything goes, and the abuses will show up; it is only a matter of time. That's why we have a Bill of Rights in the first place.

The practice of vacuuming everyone's information into vast databases looks to me like a violation, in principle, of the 4th Amendment's insistence on narrowly specific warrants and probable cause. Of course the government has lawyers ready to argue that what is going on is not really a violation. If the public feels strongly that they are being mistreated, and at present it appears that they do, then all the logic chopping and lawyerish wrangling of government legal teams will make no difference. This is instead shaping up as a question about the consent of the governed.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Hatred of guns and gunners

There is seething hatred at the bottom of some people's anti-gun, anti-2nd Amendment feelings. I have touched on that in prior posts, for example here and here. Kill the NRA! Pro gun? That makes you an accessory to murder! Since I cannot peer about inside other people's brains to see how they work, I can only guess at where the hate comes from.

It's something I have not yet figured out entirely. I was startled when first I met with it. Years ago, an otherwise promising romance was poisoned when she found out that the guy thing I like to do on weekends is to take my gun case, proudly emblazoned with the insignia of an NRA Life Member, down to the local gun range to pop off a box of practice rounds and hang out with the bubbary (the class of the citizenry composed of Bubbas).

The matter seems to involve class consciousness and something else besides, perhaps a deep mistrust of the idea that anyone should on his own recognizance wield such power. But there must be more at work. Feelings of self-superiority and comparative inadequacy are not in themselves enough to motivate hate. The simplest answer, though rather a strange and curious sounding one, is that what is underlying it all is a religious motivation. Haven't religions always been at the bottom of the bitterest feelings?

I refer to the faith of secularism, in which the government is the biggest and most powerful thing on the scene, thus the object of worship. The right to arm to defend yourself, viewed as a matter of natural law or God-given right, is in direct contradiction to the idea that the individual is to be managed and directed (for his own good of course) in collective actions that serve the whole. The secularist's concept of the world he lives in stands in contrast to a God centered view, which the secularist dismisses as a crutch for the weak and an opiate of the masses. Why would anyone look to a God they can't see when there is something mighty and gift-giving that you can petition right here and now? Like I said, that explanation sounds at first a bit daft, but bear with me for a moment.

Nothing declares one's independence of the statist religion as thoroughly (or at least as loudly) as a long magazine filled with .308, thus it is something like a horrible pagan practice to go to the range and practice with such things. Efficient arms in practiced hands are the only means by which the consent of the governed might conceivably be withdrawn, if the state ever becomes too big for its britches and voting and suing no longer work as the means of protecting essential liberties. Thus the American rifleman's very existence is an affront to what some people hold most dear, the idea of an all powerful state. Have I hit on the wrong explanation here? It may well be so, for there are aspects to it that do not altogether make sense, but how else do you explain the hate?

Classic gun review: First generation Thompson Center Contender

Including a pictorial on how to change barrels

The Contender is a break action single shot. You can set up the gun as a pistol or carbine, depending on your tastes. Barrels are interchangeable and available in many calibers. The gun reviewed is an older model, made in the seventies. There is a more recent "G2" second generation model with numerous changes to the mechanism. In between the early model shown and the present G2, there were several variations in parts and design, most significantly a redesign of the barrel latch to make the gun easier to open. The review gun lacks the easy-open feature. More about that later.

The Contender figured in a Supreme Court case, which established that having a pistol and parts to convert it to a rifle did not amount to possession of an illegal short barreled rifle. Thus in a small way the Contender has a place in gun rights history. Of course, it is still illegal to assemble the pistol barrel to a receiver which is at the time fitted with a shoulder stock, but as Justice White remarked, not even the dumbest criminal would want a Contender SBR. What I take to be the most recent clarification of the court decision's regulatory consequences is found on the BATFE web site, here. If it has moved, do a web search for ATF ruling 2011-4.

The gun has a very good trigger, user adjustable and crisp. The factory sights are also nice; they are large, easy to see and screw adjustable.  Just about any cartridge the frame is strong enough to handle has at some time had a Contender chambered for it. Here is a list of the factory calibers offered at present; click the "Specifications" tab to see the choices. Aftermarket manufacturers offer barrels in a number of additional chamberings--more than a hundred different cartridges in all, including a number of wildcats.

An option that I find a lot of fun is the barrel that shoots .45 Colt and .410 shotshells, 2-1/2 or 3". Use of the shotshell is legally permissible because the barrel is rifled and less than a half inch in caliber. A clever choke with straight "rifling" stops the spin of the shot cup, imparted when you shoot shotshells down the rifled bore. Typically, shot fired from a rifled bore scatters all over the place, with shot everywhere but in the center of
The peculiar snoot is a choke for firing .410 shotshells
the pattern; the Contender's special choke stops that from happening. It's a convoluted process but it results in decent patterns. The choke is removed to shoot .45's. The chamber is overly long for the .45 Colt cartridge, of course, resulting in a long freebore jump to the rifling, which is not the best setup for accuracy. I have not tried it, but there is a
wildcat cartridge solution; fabricate extra-long .45 cases that position the .45 bullet out near the beginning of the rifling, well forward of where the bullet starts when fired from the .45 Colt cartridge. I mostly just shoot .410's out of this barrel. Of course the .410 shotshell is far superior to any of the snake shot cartridges in conventional pistol calibers, because it was designed for the purpose of launching shot and the pistol cartridges were not. (Travelers take note that the .410 pistol barrel is illegal in California.)

Another setup I enjoy shooting is the 10" barrel in .223 Remington. The cartridge's report in such a short barrel is shrill and very loud; other people at the range turn their heads to look, for it is startling even with hearing protection. As a practical matter, the Ballistics By The Inch web site, which is always entertaining, shows that the bullet has a fairly respectable velocity when launched from a ten inch barrel, about 2600 fps for the garden variety 55-grain ammo. That is stepping right along, for a gun you can carry on your belt. Accuracy is rifle-like, though limited by the open iron sights. Many people scope their Contenders.

.22 LR is of course a popular option, economical to shoot and, in the big Contender pistol, nearly recoilless. To accommodate the switch from centerfire to rimfire cartridges, the frame contains two firing pins. The hammer's nose has an ingenious moveable striking surface than can be rotated with a screwdriver, positioning it to hit the correct firing pin. I would not have made it that way, ingenious though it is. I would have offset the bore line of the rimfire barrels so that the same firing pin could be used for centerfire and rimfire. However, no one asked me, and there may be some production-related reason why it is best to have the same bore axis in all barrel assemblies.

There are many other caliber choices, but you get the idea. One frame, many barrels, and a gun endlessly adaptable to different tasks. Contenders are used in small game hunting, big game hunting, silhouette competition and are fine guns for just messing around, plinking at tin cans and so on. Barrels supposedly interchange across all Contender frames old and new, but in practice there are a few exceptions.

While it is broadly true that barrels are interchangeable, some barrels may require refitting of the locking bolt, or replacement of that part--or both replacement and fitting. There are two types of locking bolt trouble. Either the gun  does not lock up solidly, or it locks up too solidly. If the locking bolt does not engage the frame adequately the gun will not fire; there is a safety interlock. At least, that is how it is supposed to work. If the bolt engages too tightly the gun is hard to get open.

A barrel that works fine on one frame may not work well on another. Some hobbyists have become adept at replacing and hand fitting the bolt. Many people, though, will be more comfortable referring such problems to a gunsmith, or to the Thompson Center factory. While this is interchangeability in some sense of the word, switching to a different barrel is not always a drop-in replacement.  A rule of thumb is that barrels and frames made at close to the same time are more likely to work without adjustment than those made many years apart.

There are Internet reports of Contenders that fly open when fired. I have not seen that happen but there are enough reports to persuade me that the problem exists. Perhaps the bolt spring is weak; perhaps the safety interlock is malfunctioning. Perhaps the frame or the bolt is worn out of spec. As this is a safety issue I suggest referring it to the manufacturer.

To provide a bit of background on barrel/frame compatibility, I need to digress for a bit and tell about a couple of significant design changes that took place in the early eighties. Sometimes, with some barrels but not all, the earlier guns would stick shut and be very difficult to open. The factory's response was twofold. The barrel latch pivot was moved rearward in the "easy open" redesign. In earlier guns the pivot was at the front of the frame. The gun illustrated is of the old "hard open" type. You can see the latch pivot at the frame's front, beneath the barrel pivot pin. The redesigned latch has the pivot above the trigger. This gives you an easy way to tell which you are looking at.

The other change was to redesign the barrel locking bolt from a solid, single piece design to a two piece bolt that was split lengthways, to allow it to break contact with the frame more easily. Here is where things get interesting. My old style gun, without the easy open feature, is always easy to open, smooth as butter, if it is used with the old solid-bolt barrel of its same vintage. Put on a new barrel with the split bolt and it may well decide not to open.

I notice from closely examining an old locking bolt and a new one side by side that there were some slight shape changes, and dimensional changes, not just the change from one piece bolt to two piece. This, I think, accounts for at least some of the problems encountered.

The factory will convert your old hard-open frame to easy-open. That should help. Only. . .sometimes I have heard of easy open frames sticking shut too, especially with older barrels with one piece bolts. The "maybe, maybe not" interchangeability of the Contender's barrels makes it something of a hobbyist's and aficionado's gun; a bit of a puzzle sometimes but satisfying when you solve your problems. Then it's a terrific shooter.

Hint: When my Contender jams shut, I find that a light but very fast tap on the trigger guard with a rubber handled screwdriver, or some other light and non-marring instrument, will give the jammed mechanism the right idea, start it a bit, and allow me press up the latch to open the gun. Don't try to beat it open, just give it a smart light rap. Then see if you can open the latch. It's not magic but so far it has worked for me. (All gun safety rules apply.)

Other than that, the gun is largely trouble free. Springs and small parts can break or wear out, but that is true of any gun. Of course, there is not so very much to go wrong in a single shot action. The gun is pleasant to handle, well made, smooth working if properly fitted up. The only real negative is the addiction problem. You are always thinking of new uses for the gun, and each time you do, you need another barrel.

How to change barrels

With the action closed, remove the screw in the bottom of the forearm

Remove the forearm and open the action

Tap out the barrel pivot pin and remove the barrel

Line up the new barrel's pivot hole with the holes in the frame

Replace the pivot pin

Close the action and replace the forearm

Single issue voter? Not exactly!

Because the right to keep and bear arms thus closely relates to the question of the place of the individual in society, anyone who is consistent in his thinking will have views on gun control that are indicative of his views on the larger question.

I am not exactly a single issue voter myself; there are many political matters that interest me. However, as others have observed before now, gun control is a pretty good indicator of how a candidate really feels on a variety of other issues. If he is for strong and intrusive anti-gun measures, it is nearly certain that he likes the nanny state and is okay with the surveillance state. Why is that consistent? It relates to how that politician views the individual and the power of the state.

If you do not think the individual ought ever wield deadly force on his own behalf, but should wait for the cops to arrive, that indicates a specific relationship in your mind as to the individual's safety and where decisions about it are properly vested. You will be distinctly uncomfortable with the idea that the state does not and should not have a monopoly on deadly force. Indeed, as an extension of that, the Jeffersonian idea that the people should always retain the means to throw off the yoke of government will seem bizarrely wrong to you.

If you think the whole point of society is that the government shall direct everyone in ways that are useful to society as a whole, you will never be comfortable with the contrary view. That is the view that society is made up of individuals who ought make their own choices; government ought be minimal, empowered in a way that is consistent with good order but not instituted or empowered to manage our lives. It is the second view and not the first that gave rise to the idea of the armed citizen as final guarantor of  individual choices and privacy.

Because the right to keep and bear arms thus closely relates to the question of the place of the individual in society, anyone who is consistent in his thinking will have views on gun control that are indicative of his views on the larger question.

If you pragmatically realize you cannot ban private gun ownership outright, though you think that would be a good thing, then it is perfectly self-consistent with your thinking to support things like the misnamed assault weapons bans and limits on magazine capacity. The net effect is to leave the citizenry substantially less capable than they were of defending themselves. That is why you feel satisfaction at such laws even though they have no impact upon crime and criminals. The criminals still have thirty shots in their rifles, but that is another issue for another day. You can feel good that Joe Citizen does not. What if Joe needs to defend himself against the criminals? He shouldn't do that! What if he someday needs to fight off tyranny and oppression? Same answer!

I am no psychiatrist and I am not attempting to play one on the Internet. What I am pointing to goes only to the question of logical consistency, which is something anyone can judge. If you take someone's ideas and line them up side by side, most people's are consistent.

As I said, I am not a single issue voter. But all my politics come down on the side of the individual and his rights deserving precedence over the state and its tendency to micromanage and intrude. I am not at all persuaded that a politician holds views consistent with my own on other matters if he does not possess a solid "A" rating from the NRA.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Secure gun storage

The Guardian Express, a web outlet that covers the US news beat, today has an opinion piece entitled "Handguns and Their Irresponsible Owners," written by James Turnage. I dislike the tone of the piece, and take issue with one or two minor points. But I agree with the big point of it. If you have a gun, you must store  it safely. It is something I have preached for years. Unless the gun is under your direct and immediate control, which means carried on your person or placed within reach, it should be rendered inert, inaccessible or preferably both. My logic on this point is airtight. If you really need a gun, you need it ready to hand. If you really do not need it, it should be secured.

It's all quite simple to manage. Take, for example, the double action revolver. Swing open the cylinder and snap a sturdy padlock around the top strap. The gun will not work, and an attempt to twist off the lock will wreck the gun before the lock gives way.

The above is a variant of a cop trick from the old days when cops carried revolvers. The trick was as follows. Take a pair of handcuffs, loop one of the bracelets through the gun's frame, as above. The gun is now disabled. If you also want to keep the gun from walking away, you can take the other bracelet and cuff that around a bedstead, a sturdy plumbing pipe or some other object likely to stay put.

There are many purpose-built devices meant to disable guns: trigger locks, cable locks, trigger guard inserts with padlock holes, and others. There are more besides that enclose the gun completely, such as lock boxes and safes; I think these are a bit safer; out of sight, out of mind. They also do more to discourage theft.

As to the Guardian Express article, I agree that it is senseless and tragic that a four year old managed to get his hands on an unsecured gun and fire it, killing his father. A toddler is too young to remember or to understand the Four Rules, thus cannot apply them, and thus must never handle firearms. When sensible gun handling is not sufficient safeguard, and it never can be when small children are involved, the guns must be locked up.

There is, though, a statement in the article that I find difficult to parse. The author says, "I do not own a gun for two reasons. I don't want to, and I refuse to live in fear." To the first part, very well, but I am puzzled by the second. It is not clear what the author is refusing to be afraid of. If it is fear of having a gun around, that is easily remedied and he lists the remedies: "Several methods are foolproof. There are trigger locks, gun safes and methods that will prevent a tragic accident like the one above." So I think what he means is that he courageously chooses not to defend himself against such dangers as a gun might be useful against; if that is his meaning I cannot agree. I live the less in fear for owning a gun--stored safely--and being a passable shot with it.

As a minor quibble, trigger locks are far from "foolproof." The lock must be a reasonable fit to the trigger guard of the gun or it can slip back and forth, negating the value of the lock. It is something that must be checked case by case. Not all trigger locks are good on all guns. I find it curious how often the anti-gun contingent talks about trigger locks as a panacea, when trigger locks, unless they fit properly, are less positive than other methods.

I certainly agree with Mr. Turnage that there are too many accidents related to unsafe storage of guns. Any are too many, for the problem is so easily solved. If you have disabled your gun with a properly fitting trigger lock, or a cable lock, handcuffs or something else, or have locked it up in a safe, any use of that gun by an unauthorized person is going to involve burgling your precaution, and that shifts the moral and legal burden squarely onto the one doing it.

What is to be avoided is a set of narrowly specific storage requirements enforced by law, such as they have in some countries, for one size fits all turns out to mean an impractical solution for everyone. What we need is a talking-up campaign to make sure everyone is kept aware that proper gun storage is important. Indeed, it is an essential aspect to safe and responsible gun ownership.

So I encourage you to talk it up. Though I disagree with the way he said it, Mr. Turnage and I are oddly on the same side of the issue.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Thinking about arshins

This obsolete unit of distance may be better than yards or meters.

Old Imperial Russia had a unit of measure called the arshin (ahr-SHEEN) that was equivalent to 28 inches or  71 cm. The Revolution and the subsequent conversion to the metric system were both mistakes.

One arshin is about the distance a man covers when he takes one step forward. There are variations from one man to another, based on how long his legs are. Typically a man's step is nearer 30 inches than 28, in our day, but 28 still falls within the range of variation. Perhaps 28 was nearer the average formerly.

I started thinking about arshins and their uses after seeing an elderly Russian Mosin-Nagant rifle with its sights calibrated in arshins. Thinking the matter through, I found that I am more confident in guessing distances when thinking "how many steps?" instead of how many yards or meters. That is natural enough. A step is a familiar distance that we experience every day, strengthening our intuition about how many steps are between here and there.

Shooters often need to estimate distances by eye. Estimating them in footsteps is likely to work better than using any arbitrary unit such as yards or meters. All our ballistic data is in yards or meters, but there is no law that says we have to use those units. If we like, we can convert a drop and drift table to the measured length of our own steps, or to arshins, or to anything else. Of course in this newfangled era of laser rangefinders, guesstimating the distance may be a vanishing art, but if we are going to guess, it works better if we base the guess on the length of our steps. Or so it seems to me. See if your estimates are more accurate using footsteps; if it works for you, great, and if not, never mind.

Gun safety's Four Rules: Don't get your name in the newspapers

I do something that is perhaps peculiar. When I read the news I look for stories about gun accidents. Each time I find one, if the reporting is clear at all, I can figure out which gun safety rule was violated, or which rules, for often it's not just one.

Colonel Cooper's Four Rules of Gun Safety are the distillation of what you need to know, a short simple set of precepts that anyone can remember. Cooper, as likely you know already, revolutionized shooter training in the last century by clearly stipulating, step by step, the skills needed to shoot effectively. For example, he identified five steps in drawing and leveling a pistol, then he coached people until the gun came out and got trained on the target the same way every time. He turned the same analytical skills to the question of how to handle a firearm safely. Here's the thing: In every accidental shooting for which I've gotten a clear news account, it is clear that at least one of his four safety rules was ignored.

Therefore I am a big fan of the Four Rules and promote them when I get the chance. I think that each shooter should know them by heart. If he forgets them, he should lock away his gun until he refreshes his memory.

1. All guns are always loaded! Some have criticized Cooper's phrasing of this rule, but his intent was to be as emphatic as possible. Treat every gun as a loaded gun (the denotative sense intended) and you will never have to whine, "But I didn't know it was loaded." Of course you did, because all guns are always loaded. That is the way you must treat guns, or they may do things you do not expect.

2. Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy. This stands to reason. The purpose of a gun is to destroy what it is directed at. Negligently pointing your gun at things and people that don't need shooting is a bad business.

3. Keep your finger OFF the trigger until your sights are ON the target. There is no need to shoot if you have not lined up on the target, thus no need to have your finger on the trigger. There is every reason to keep your finger off it. A great many accidents, perhaps the majority of them, involve violation of this simple and obvious rule.

4. Be sure of your target and what is beyond it. Always positively identify what you are shooting at. Mistaken shootings occur, but should not. A hunter has no business shooting a human under the misapprehension that he is shooting an animal. A householder has no reason for shooting a family member who arrives at home late and unexpected; use a flashlight to see who it is. The "what is beyond" part of the rule concerns the downrange danger posed by your projectile and the question of where the bullet will stop. You do not want your bullet to do harm elsewhere than you intend, by passing alongside or through your target, then sailing on its way to harm someone in the background.

As a mnemonic to help me remember the rules, I use "LS/MFT," a catchphrase from my youth. Only now it means, "LOADED, STUPID! Muzzle. Finger. Target." Remember the rules in any way you like, but remember them. Then I won't be reading about you in the newspapers.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Reflections on the pump shotgun

A 12 gauge pump is the nearest thing yet devised to an 'anything, anywhere' firearm. You see this gun in its many variations in duck blinds and in cop cars, in deer camps and in war zones. It is a recommended arm for rabbits and for grizzly bears. The pump gun's reliability in all kinds of awful conditions afield and its ability to use various types of ammunition without needing adjustments make it a generally trouble free companion no matter what you are gunning for, or where.

The biggest caveat about the pump gun: There is a type of user-induced stoppage that needs to be guarded against. That is the short stroke jam. As the name suggests, it results from incompletely cycling the gun. To avoid it, make it always a point to work the action vigorously. SLAM it open. SLAM it shut. You won't break the gun; it's designed to take five and three quarters tons of firing pressure. The Incredible Hulk couldn't break it.

Although I may be mistaken, it is my impression that working the action briskly also helps minimise the occurrence of double feed jamming, a mechanical malfunction in which the magazine somehow lets out two cartridges instead of one. If you are too leisurely in working the action, it stands to reason that there will be more time during which the magazine is able to feed. Especially if that area in the mechanism is worn or dirty, slowly cycling the gun could contribute to letting an extra shell pop out into the feedway. That said, if your gun is in the habit of feeding two, it is in need of repair, or perhaps a deep cleaning. Here is a good rundown on the repairs involved.

Failure-to-eject jams are most definitely made unlikely by working the action fast and hard. You may get the impression that I am in favor of really smacking the gun around when working the action. That is quite right. It is a habit that has stood me in good stead.

A good 12 gauge pump is the gun I would select if alerted in advance that I would need a gun, but not told why, where, or for what target. Its mice-or-moose versatility makes it, moreover, the long gun to pick if you are limited to just one.

There are many very good pump guns on the market, along with some poorly made ones. Two excellent guns, and the two most popular, are the Mossberg 500 and the Remington 870. I shall not indulge in the often bandied questions over which is better. I am familiar with both and a fair side by side comparison of their features and capabilities permits only one conclusion. Each one is better than the other.

The pump shotgun is, in concept, an invention of the late nineteenth century. Unlike most gun design concepts of the era, this one is still front line technology in police and military use, and in a number of shooting sports. It is a terrifically good idea and well deserves its success. The semi auto shotgun is in some ways the better weapon, but it can behave like a prima donna in lousy field conditions or if the shells aren't to its liking. Great progress has been made in recent years toward lessening these problems, but there's still just one clear choice if you want a go anywhere, do anything shotgun, and that's the pump gun.